Category: Article 19

Thousands of disabled people have lost their specialist Motability vehicles because of Conservative benefit cuts and many more are likely to be affected

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In 2012, Esther McVey, then the Minister for people with disabilities, as good as admitted there are targets to reduce or remove eligibility for the new disability benefit Personal Independent Payment (PIP), which was to replace Disability Living Allowance. How else could she know in advance of people’s reassessment that 330,000 of claimants are expected to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced as she had informed the House of Commons?

This was a clear indication that the new assessment framework was designed to cut support for disabled people. A recent review led the government to conclude that PIP doesn’t currently fulfil the original policy intent, which was to cut costs and “target” the benefit to “those with the greatest need.”

That basically meant a narrowing of eligibility criteria for people formerly claiming Disability Living Allowance, increasing the number of reassessments required, and limiting the number of successful claims. The government have used the review to attempt to justify further restrictions to PIP eligibility, aimed at cutting support for people who require aids to meet fundamental needs such as preparing food, dressing, basic and essential personal care and managing incontinence. “Greatest need” has become an ever-shrinking category under Conservative austerity measures. 

McVey also said that around 200 disabled people in every parliamentary constituency were likely to lose their Motability vehicle when she changed the qualifying walking distance limit from 50 metres to 20-metres. 

And she pointed out that one of the Department for Transport’s own publications, Inclusive Mobility, recommends that “seating should be provided on pedestrian routes at intervals of no more than 50 metres, and that parking spaces for blue badge holders should preferably be provided within 50 metres of the facilities they serve”.

The Motability Scheme helped around 650,000 disabled people to lease specialist cars, wheelchairs and scooters. Anyone on the highest level of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) was entitled to join the scheme which also helped to pay for expensive adaptations. Motability provides financial help (grants) to disabled people who would not otherwise be able to afford the vehicle or adaptations they need, and the charity undertakes a range of fundraising activities to contribute to the provision of financial help to those Scheme customers whose allowance does not cover the cost of the mobility solution that they need.

Last year, Motability revealed that around 100 disabled people claiming PIP are losing their crucial vehicle benefit every week.

According to Motability, who lease specialised cars and powered wheelchairs to disabled people, 3,000 out of 8,000 of their customers who have so far been reassessed for PIP, who were previously claiming the Disability Living Allowance, have lost their eligibility for the scheme and have therefore had to give up their vehicles.

Motability raised concerns that the government reforms to DLA would affect many more. It has.

Nearly 14,000 disabled people have had their mobility vehicle confiscated after the changes to benefit assessment, which are carried out by private companies. Many more, yet to be reassessed, are also likely to lose their specialised vehicles.

Under the new PIP rules thousands more people who rely on disability allowance to keep their independence are set to lose their vehicles. Many had been adapted to meet their owners’ needs and many campaigners warn that it will lead to a devastating loss of independence for disabled people.

A total of 45% or 13,900 people, were deemed as not needing the higher rate of PIP, and therefore lost their vehicles after reassessment. And out of the 31,200 people who were once on the highest rate of DLA who have been reassessed, just 55%, or 17,300 – have kept their car.

Given that many Motability vehicles are specially adapted to meet the highly individual needs of each person, I wonder what happens to all of those vehicles that are lost under the new restricted benefit eligibility criteria.

Around 51,200 disabled people have joined the Motability scheme using their PIP. Around 360,000 more people will undergo PIP reassessments and that will include “indefinite” or “lifetime” awards under the original DLA support.

Perhaps the government expect that severely and chronically ill people will miraculously recover, their progressive illness will stop progressing, maybe people will grow new limbs, find cures of their own where medical professionals and drug companies have failed and battle their “choice” of disability alone.

Being disabled is very expensive. The charity Scope has calculated that disabled people pay a huge financial penalty over and above the everyday living costs faced by the typical able-bodied person – on average £550 per month. One in ten pay more than £1000 a month over the odds.

Expenses range from door-to-door taxis to get around, extra heating costs, pricey specialist items like wheelchairs, hoists, or stair lifts. There may be extra laundry costs, continence aids, special dietary requirements, a need for home help and meals on wheels. Some disabilities place more wear and tear on shoes and clothing, some people need suitable kinds of footwear. Non-prescription medical items are also an additional cost. These are just a few examples of extra expenses. There are many more that most able-bodied people wouldn’t ever need to think of.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “Being disabled costs money.

The Personal Independence Payment is supposed to help with those costs, but many people are being denied the benefit because they are not assessed properly. Sometimes that means people lose their cars; a massive blow which impacts on their ability to remain independent, take part in their communities or get and keep a job.”

Recent research revealed that of all the appeals related to PIP, 60% of tribunals have ruled in the claimant’s favour.

Motability provides a support package, including a £2,000 grant, to anyone forced to leave the scheme following a PIP reassessment.

The charity added: “This helps individuals to remain mobile, in many cases by purchasing a used car. Motability has already provided some £16m in support through this transitional package.”

The Conservative claim that “Government is committed to supporting the most vulnerable” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, given the Conservative policy record, including cruelly scrapping the Independent Living Fund, which has had a hugely negative impact on those trying their best to lead independent and dignified lives, and the Access To Work funding has been severely cut, this is also a fund that helps people and employers to cover the extra living costs arising due to disabilities that might present barriers to work. 

Mr Duncan Smith said at the Conservative conference last year that many sick and disabled people “wanted to work” and that the Government should give them “support” to find jobs and make sure the welfare system encouraged them to get jobs. I’m wondering what the word “support” actually means to Conservatives, because there’s every indication that over the past five years, there has only been a withdrawal of essential support and lifeline benefits from those who need them the most.

Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities states that persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community. Article 20 states that Parties shall take effective measures to ensure personal mobility with the greatest possible independence for persons with disabilities, including by:

a) Facilitating the personal mobility of persons with disabilities in the manner and at the time of their choice, and at affordable cost;

b) Facilitating access by persons with disabilities to quality mobility aids, devices, assistive technologies and forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including by making them available at affordable cost;

c) Providing training in mobility skills to persons with disabilities and to specialist staff working with persons with disabilities;

d) Encouraging entities that produce mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies to take into account all aspects of mobility for persons with disabilities.

Article 28 requires that States Parties recognise the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions, and should take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realisation of these rights without discrimination on the basis of disability.

It’s difficult to see how the government’s cuts to lifeline disability benefits can possibly be consistent with their obligations to uphold human rights law. 

 

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The media need a nudge: the government using ‘behavioural science’ to manipulate the public isn’t a recent development, nudging has been happening since 2010

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Last year I wrote a critical article about the government’s Nudge Unit. The ideas of libertarian paternalism were popularised around five years ago by the legal theorist Cass Sunstein and the behavioural economist Richard Thaler, in their bestselling book Nudge. Sunstein and Thaler argue that we are fundamentally “irrational” and that many of our choices are influenced negatively by “cognitive bias.” They go on to propose that policymakers can and ought to nudge citizens towards making choices that are supposedly in their best interests and in the best interests of society.

But who nudges the nudgers?

Who decides what is in our “best interests”?

And how can human interests be so narrowly defined and measured in terms of economic outcomes, within a highly competitive, “survival of the fittest” neoliberal framework? The Nudge Unit is concerned with behavioural economics, not human happiness and wellbeing.

The welfare reforms, especially the increased application of behavioural conditionality criteria and the extended use of benefit sanctions, are based on a principle borrowed from behavioural economics theory – the cognitive bias called “loss aversion.” It refers to the idea that people’s tendency is to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. The idea is embedded in the use of sanctions to “nudge” people towards compliance with welfare rules of conditionality, by using a threat of punitive financial loss, since the longstanding, underpinning Conservative assumption is that people are unemployed because of behavioural deficits.

I’ve argued elsewhere, however, that benefit sanctions are more closely aligned with operant conditioning (behaviourism) than “libertarian paternalism,” since sanctions are a severe punishment intended to modify behaviour and restrict choices to that of compliance and conformity or destitution. But nudge was always going to be an attractive presentation at the top of a very slippery slope all the way down to open state coercion. Most people think that nudge is just about helping men to pee on the right spot on urinals, getting us to pay our taxes on time, or to save for our old age. It isn’t.

How can sanctioning ever be considered a rational political action –  that taking away lifeline income from people who are already struggling to meet their basic needs is somehow justifiable, or “in their best interests” or about making welfare “fair”?  The government claim that sanctions “incentivise” people to look for work. But there is an established body of empirical evidence which demonstrates clearly that denying people the means of meeting basic needs, such as money for food and fuel, undermines their physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing, and serves to further “disincentivise” people who are already trapped at a basic level of struggling to simply survive.

The Minnesota Semistarvation Experiment for example, provided empirical evidence and a highly detailed account regarding the negative impacts of food deprivation on human motivation, behaviour, sociability, physical and psychological health. Abraham Maslow, a humanist psychologist who studied human potential, needs and motivation, said that if a person is starving, the desire to obtain food will trump all other goals and dominate the person’s thought processes. This idea of cognitive priority is also represented in his classic hierarchy of needs. 

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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

In a nutshell, this means that if people can’t meet their basic survival needs, it is extremely unlikely that they will have either the capability or motivation to meet higher level psychosocial needs, including social obligations and responsibilities to job seek.

Libertarian paternalists claim that whilst it is legitimate for government, private and public institutions to affect behaviour the aims should be to ensure that “people should be free to opt out of specified arrangements if they choose to do so.” The nudges favoured by libertarian paternalists are also supposed to be “unobtrusive.” That clearly is not the case with the application of coercive, draconian Conservative welfare sanctions. (See Nudging conformity and benefit sanctions.)

Evidently the government have more than a few whopping cognitive biases of their own.

I have previously criticised nudge because of its fundamental incompatibility with traditional democratic principles, and human rights frameworks, amongst other things. Democracy is based on a process of dialogue between the public and government, ensuring that the public are represented: that governments are responsive, shaping policies that address identified social needs. However, policies are no longer about representing and reflecting citizen’s needs: they are all about telling us how to be.

I’ve also pointed out that nudge operates to manipulate at a much broader level, too. The intentional political construction of folk devils and purposeful culturally amplified references to a stereotype embodying fecklessness, idleness and irresponsibility, utilising moral panic and manufactured public outrage as an effective platform for punitive welfare reform legislation, is one example of the value-laden application of pseudoscientific “behavioural insights” theory. The new paternalists have drawn on our psychosocial inclinations towards conformity, which is evident in the increasing political use of manipulative normative messaging. (For example, see: The Behavioral Insights Team in the U.K. used social normative messages to increase tax compliance in 2011.) 

The paternalist’s behavioural theories have been used to increasingly normalise a moral narrative based on a crude underpinning “deserving” and “undeserving” dichotomy, that justifies state interventions imposing conditions of extreme deprivation amongst some social groups – especially those previously considered legally protected. Public rational and moral boundaries have been and continue to be nudged and shifted, incrementally. Gordon Allport outlined a remarkably similar process in his classic political psychology text, The Nature of Prejudice, which describes the psychosocial processes involved in the construction of categorical others, and the subsequent escalating scale of prejudice and discrimination.

So we really do need to ask exactly in whose “best interests” the new paternalist “economologists” are acting. Nudge is being targeted specifically at the casualties of inequality, which is itself an inevitability of neoliberalism. The premise of nudge theory is that poor people make “bad choices” rather than their circumstances being recognised as an inexorable consequence of a broader context in which political decisions and the economic Darwinism that neoliberalism entails creates “winners and losers.”

I have seen very little criticism of nudge in the mainstream media until very recently. On Monday the Independent published an article about how the Chancellor exploited our cognitive biases to secure his cuts to welfare, drawing particularly on the loss aversion theory. To reiterate, in economics decision theory, loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.

From the Independent article:

“Researchers have also found that people do not treat possible forgone gains resulting from a decision in the same way as equivalent potential out-of-pocket losses from that same decision. The forgone gains are much less psychologically painful to contemplate than the losses. Indeed, the gains are sometimes ignored altogether.

There was an apparent attempt to harness this particular psychological bias in George Osborne’s Autumn Statement. Of course the Chancellor was forced into a memorable U-turn on his wildly unpopular tax credit cuts. Millions of poor working families will now not see their benefits cut in cash terms next April. Yet the Chancellor still gets virtually all his previously targeted savings from the welfare bill by 2020.

How? Because the working age welfare system will still become much less generous in five years’ time. As research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation has shown, the typical low-income working family in 2020 will be hit just as hard as they were going to be before the Autumn Statement U-turn. The Chancellor seems to be calculating that the pain of future forgone gains will be less politically toxic than immediate cash losses.”

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It’s hardly a revelation that the Conservative government are manipulating public opinion, using scapegoating, outgrouping and the creation of folk devils in order desensitize the public to the plight of the poorest citizens and to justify dismantling the welfare state incrementally. As I’ve pointed out previously, this has been going on since 2010, hidden in plain view.

In the article, Ben Chu also goes on to say:

“Experiments by Daniel Kahneman, Jack Knetsch and Richard Thaler also suggest that this stealth approach fits with people’s sense of fairness. They found that in a time of recession and high unemployment most people they surveyed thought a hypothetical company that cut pay in cash terms was acting unfairly, while one that merely raised it by less than inflation was behaving fairly.

There was another exploitation of our psychological biases in the Autumn Statement. The Chancellor announced an increase in stamp duty for people buying residential properties to let. That underscored the fact that the Chancellor remains wedded to the stamp duty tax, despite pressure from public finance experts to shift to a more progressive and efficient annual property tax (perhaps an overhauled council tax).

But Mr Osborne, like all his recent predecessors, realises that stamp duty, for all its deficiencies, tends to be less resented as a form of taxing property. Why? Because of “anchoring”. When people buy a house they are mentally prepared to part with a huge sum, usually far bigger than any other transaction they will make in their lives. The additional stamp duty payable to the Treasury on top of this massive sum, large though it is, seems less offensive. People resent it less than they would if the tax were collected annually in the form of a property tax – even if, for most, it would actually make little difference over the longer term. Sticking with stamp duty is the path of least resistance.”

There is another economologist “experiment” that seems to have slipped under the radar of the media – an experiment to nudge sick and disabled people into work, attempting to utilise GPs in a blatant overextension of the intrusive and coercive arm of the state. It is aimed at ensuring sick and disabled people don’t claim benefits. I don’t recall any mention of behaviourist social experiments on the public in the Conservative manifesto.

When I am ill, I visit a doctor. I expect professional and expert support. I wouldn’t consider consulting Iain Duncan Smith about my medical conditions. Or the government more generally. There are very good reasons for that. I’m sure that Iain Duncan Smith has Dunning–Kruger syndrome. He thinks he knows better than doctors and unreliably informs us that work can set you free, it can help prevent and cure illness.  Yet I’ve never heard of a single case of work curing blindness, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, cancer or even so much as a migraine. I’ve also yet to hear of a person’s missing limbs miraculously growing back. The Conservative “medical intervention” entails a single prescription: a work coach from the job centre. State medicine – a single dose to be taken daily: Conservative ideology, traditional prejudice and some patronising and extremely coercive paternalism. The blue pill.

I don’t agree with the conclusions that Ben Chu draws in his article. Whilst he acknowledges that:

“The Government has a Behavioural Insights Team (or “Nudge Unit”) whose objective is to exploit the public’s psychological biases,” he goes on to say that it’s merely “to push progressive policies, such as getting us to save more for retirement and helping us make “better choices”, perhaps by counteracting the negative impact of loss aversion. But, as we’ve seen, the Chancellor is not above exploiting our biases in a cynical fashion too.” 

Progressive policies? The draconian welfare “reforms” aren’t remotely “progressive.” In the UK, the growth and institutionalisation of prejudice and discrimination is reflected in the increasing tendency towards the transgression of international legal human rights frameworks at the level of public policy-making. Policies that target protected social groups with moralising, stereotypical (and nudge-driven) normative messages, accompanied with operant disciplinary measures, have led to extremely negative and harmful outcomes for the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, but there is a marked political and social indifference to the serious implications and consequences of such policies.

There is a relationship between the world that a person inhabits and that person’s actions. Any theory of behaviour and cognition that ignores context can at best be regarded as very limited and partial. Yet the libertarian paternalists overstep their narrow conceptual bounds, with the difficulty of reconciling individual and social interests somewhat glossed over. They conflate “social interests” with neoliberal outcomes.

The asymmetrical, class-contingent application of paternalistic libertarian “insights” establishes a hierarchy of decision-making “competence” and autonomy, which unsurprisingly corresponds with the hierarchy of wealth distribution.

So nudge inevitably will deepen and perpetuate existing inequality and prejudice, adding a dimension of patronising psycho-moral suprematism to add further insult to politically inflicted injury. Nudge is a technocratic fad that is overhyped, theoretically trivial, unreliable; a smokescreen, a prop for neoliberalism and monstrously unfair, bad policy-making.

Libertarian paternalists are narrowly and uncritically concerned only with the economic consequences of decisions within a neoliberal context, and therefore, their “interventions” will invariably encompass enforcing behavioural modifiers and ensuring adaptations to the context, rather than being genuinely and more broadly in our “best interests.” Defining human agency and rationality in terms of economic outcomes is extremely problematic. And despite the alleged value-neutrality of the new behavioural economics research it is invariably biased towards the status quo and social preservation rather than progressive social change.

At best, the new “behavioural science” is merely theoretical, at a broadly experimental stage, and therefore profoundly limited in terms of scope and academic rigour, as a mechanism of explanation, and in terms of its capacity for generating comprehensive and coherent accounts and understandings of human motivation and behaviour.

At worst, the rise of this new form of psychopolitical behaviourism reflects, and aims at perpetuating, the hegemonic nature of neoliberalism.

But for the record, when a government attempts to micromanage and manipulate the behaviour of citizens, we call that “totalitarianism” not “nudge.” 

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Related reading

A critique of Conservative notions of social research

The government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Mind the MINDSPACE: the nudge that knocked democracy down

Nudging conformity and benefit sanctions

Prime minister dismisses UN inquiry into government’s discriminatory treatment of disabled people

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has asked David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions today to publish the details of the Government’s response to the United Nations inquiry into the allegations that Conservative policies are breaching the rights of disabled people in the UK. He also asked if the government intended to co-operate with the inquiry.

Such UN investigations are conducted confidentially by the UN and officials will not confirm or deny whether the UK is currently being put under scrutiny.

However, the ongoing inquiry been widely reported by disability rights groups and campaigners. The Department for Work and Pensions has previously declined to comment on the possibility of an investigation.

Mr Corbyn used his final question to ask about the United Nations inquiry into alleged “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people in the UK. The PM gave a dismissive response, saying the inquiry may not be “all it’s cracked up to be” and said that disabled people in other countries do not have the rights and support that “they” [disabled people] in the UK are offered. Cameron also implied that Labour’s “strong” equality legislation was a Conservative policy. However, the Equality Act was drafted under the guidance of Harriet Harman.

Jeremy Corbyn asks about David Cameron about his response to the UN inquiry at Prime Minister’s Questions

The United Nations team of investigators are expecting to meet with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, members of parliament, individual campaigners and disabled people’s organisations, representatives from local authorities and academics.

The team will be gathering direct evidence from individuals about the impact of government austerity measures, with a focus on benefit cuts and sanctions; cuts to social care; cuts to legal aid; the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF); the adverse impact of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA); the shortage of accessible and affordable housing; the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people, and also the rise in disability hate crime.

Mr Corbyn said:

“This is deeply embarrassing to all of us in this house and indeed to the country as a whole. It’s very sad news.”

The Government’s approach to people with disabilities had been extremely controversial and been met with criticism from campaign groups. Disabled people have borne the brunt of austerity cuts, losing more income and support than any other social group, and this is despite the fact that Cameron promised in 2010 to protect the poorest, sick and disabled people and the most vulnerable.

In 2013, Dr Simon Duffy at the Centre for Welfare Reform published a briefing outlining how the austerity cuts are targeted. The report says:

The cuts are not fair.

They target the very groups that a decent society would protect:

  • People in poverty (1 in 5 of us) bear 39% of all the cuts
  • Disabled people (1 in 13 of us) bear 29% of all the cuts
  • People with severe disabilities (1 in 50 of us) bear 15% of all the cuts

The report outlines further discrimination in how the austerity cuts have been targeted. The report says:

The unfairness of this policy is seen even more clearly when we look at the difference between the burden of cuts that falls on most citizens and the burdens that fall on minority groups. By 2015 the annual average loss in income or services will be:

  • People who are not in poverty or have no disability will lose £467 per year
  • People who are in poverty will lose £2,195 per year
  • Disabled people will lose £4,410 per year
  • Disabled people needing social care will lose £8,832 per year

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said at the  Conservative party conference speech in Manchester that disabled people “should work their way out of poverty.”

The Work and Pensions Secretary has been widely criticised for removing support for disabled people who want to work: by closing Remploy factories, scrapping the Independent Living Fund, cuts to payments for a disability Access To Work scheme and cuts to Employment and Support Allowance.

The reformed Work Capability Assessment has been very controversial, with critics labeling them unfair, arbitrary, and heavily bureaucratic, weighted towards unfairly removing people’s sickness and disability benefit and forcing them to look for work.

The bedroom tax also hits disabled people disproportionately, with around two thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty being disabled.

The United Nations have already deemed that the bedroom tax constitutes a violation of the human right to adequate housing in several ways. If, for example, the extra payments force tenants to cut down on their spending on food or heating their home. There are already a number of legal challenges to the bedroom tax under way in British courts. In principle the judiciary here takes into account the international human rights legislation because the UK has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The right to adequate housing is recognised in a number of international human rights instruments that the UK has signed up to.

UN rapporteur Raquel Rolnik called for the UK government last year to scrap its controversial bedroom tax policy. Rolnik’s report was dismissed as a “misleading Marxist diatribe” by Tory ministers, and she had been subject to a “blizzard of misinformation” and xenophobic tabloid reports.

The DWP’s sanctions regime has also been widely discredited, and there has been controvery over death statistics, eventually released by the Department after a long-running refusal to release the information under freedom of information law.

The Daily Mail has already preempted the visit from the special rapporteur, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, who is spearheading the ongoing inquiry into many claims that Britain is guilty of grave or systematic violations of the rights of sick and disabled people, by using racist stereotypes, and claiming that the UN are “meddling”. The Mail blatantly attempted to discredit this important UN intervention and the UN rapporteur before the visit.

Meanwhile, Cameron seems very keen to play the investigation down, and dismiss the impact of his government’s “reforms” on the lives of sick and disabled people.

We are a very wealthy, so-called first-world liberal democracy, the fact that such an inquiry has been deemed necessary at all ought to be a source of great shame for this government.

 

United Nation’s investigation in the UK concerning the human rights of disabled people- submission deadline

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I reported last year that the UK is to be investigated formally by the United Nations because of allegations of “systematic and grave” violations of disabled people’s human rights.

In August I wrote that officials from the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) are to visit Britain. The inquiry is confidential, and those giving evidence have been asked to sign a confidentiality agreement.

A United Nations team have arrived in the UK and it’s understood they will visit Manchester, London, Bristol, as well as parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The United Nations team are also expecting to meet with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, members of parliament, individual campaigners and disabled people’s organisations, representatives from local authorities and academics.

The team will be gathering direct evidence from individuals about the impact of government austerity measures, with a focus on benefit cuts and sanctions; cuts to social care; cuts to legal aid; the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF); the adverse impact of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA); the shortage of accessible and affordable housing; the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people, and also, the rise in disability hate crime.

In 2013, Amnesty International condemned the erosion of human rights of disabled people in UK, and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights conducted an inquiry into the UK Government’s implementation of Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the right to live independently and to be included in the community. The inquiry, which began in 2011, has received evidence from over 300 witnesses.

The inquiry highlighted just how little awareness, understanding and employment of the Convention there is by the (then) Tory-led Government. Very few of the witnesses made specific reference to the Convention in their presented evidence, despite the inquiry being conducted by the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, with the terms of reference clearly framing the inquiry as being about Article 19 of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities. (UNCRPD.)

“This finding is of international importance”, said Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director, “Our experience is that some Governments are of the view that the CRPD is nothing more than a policy nicety, rather than a treaty which sets out legal obligations which governments must fulfil.”

The report was particularly critical of the Minister for Disabled People (Maria Miller, at the time) who told the Committee that the CRPD was “soft law”. The Committee criticised this as “indicative of an approach to the treaty which regards the rights it protects as being of less normative force than those contained in other human rights instruments.” (See the full report.) The Committee’s view is that the CRPD is hard law, not soft law. 

In August, I wrote about how the inquiry was triggered by campaigners and groups using the convention’s optional protocol, (which the last Labour government signed us up to, in addition to the convention.) The protocol allows individuals (and groups) who are affected by violations to submit formal complaint to the UNCRPD.

The deadline for evidence submissions to the UNCRPD is thought to be 31 October.

Contact details are here.

Employment and Support Allowance – Another Mean Cut From IDS – Sheila Gilmore

Originally posted in the Huff Post, by Sheila Gilmore.

544840_330826693653532_892366209_nCruel cuts.

Policies developed on a false premise will inevitably run into problems. When these policies apply to people this can also cause great harm.

The Government’s policy on ‘sickness benefits’ is framed on the assertion that previous governments ‘dumped’ people on these benefits who never worked again. For their own good they needed to be re-tested on a new basis. Many people would then be returned to the labour market and spending on the benefit would be cut. The trouble is that numbers haven’t reduced much, and projected savings haven’t been made. But rather than review the basis on which their policy was built, it appears that the Government is simply going to cut by £30 per week the benefits of many of those its own test has found unfit for work for the time being. 

Like all good myths this has some elements of truth. Incapacity Benefit was used to deal with the problem of those displaced from industries like coal, textiles and steel during the 1980s. Job opportunities where they lived were limited, and many genuinely suffered from work related poor health . This was particularly true of older workers whose chances of a new job were always the slimmest. Under the Conservatives between 1978/79 and 1996/97, the total number of claimants more than doubled from 1.204 million to 2.569 million. This rate of increase slowed under Labour, with total numbers eventually peaking at 2.678 million in 2008/09 when ESA was introduced.

As this Budget rolls out I suspect we are going to hear a vigorous refreshing of the ‘people being callously dumped’ argument from Tory Ministers and backbenchers. However the truth is more complex. Even where total numbers have remained similar over a fairly long period, these are not by any means the same people. There is substantial flow both on and off benefit. Of those who are long term claimants , many have long term conditions making employment difficult, sometimes impossible.

 The Government insisted on rolling out the transfer of all existing Incapacity Benefit claimants to Employment & Support Allowance from 2011 , believing that the more stringent test applied for ESA would result in many existing claimants being found fit for work. In its first three years ESA was for new claimants only, with around 35% being found fit for work. The correctness of the testing process has rightly been the subject of much controversy , but applying the same test to those moving from IB produced a different result with only 23% being found fit for work initially.
One conclusion which may be reached is that in fact many people in receipt of IB actually were more unwell or disabled than the Government’s propaganda keeps suggesting . Not a conclusion it appears the Government wants to accept.

Even more crucially despite all the numbers being found ‘fit for work’, trumpeted by the Government as proof of their assertions, when you look at the total numbers in receipt of ESA, together those still on the older benefits, this number remains very high. The total number in receipt of ESA and IB is only 100,000 lower than in 2008/9.

Yet taking just the period between April 2011 and March 2013 some 234,600 former IB claimants had been found fit for work. With the toughness of the test also applying to new claimants, and the time-limiting of contributory ESA to a year for many , one would expect the total number of claimants to drop by more than the number of Incapacity Benefit claimants declared Fit for Work – but bizarrely it has dropped by considerably less.

With unemployment falling since 2008/9, one might hope that more people with health issues would have been able to find work.

Something unexplained is going on. Despite all the stress to individuals, the increasing cost and difficulty of administering the system (the migration process created a huge backlog in the assessment process), nothing much seems to have changed and savings not achieved. Are more people are becoming ill or disabled? This seems unlikely.

But what if the initial assumptions were wrong, and that there are not lots of ‘fit’ people sidelined onto incapacity benefits. Three quarters of those being ‘migrated ‘ from IB are not fit for work. The proportion of new claimants being found fit for work has fallen to 23%, and has been steadily falling . In addition I suspect that a good number of those declared Fit for Work, are simply not getting better, not getting jobs, getting less well and end up reapplying for ESA and being awarded benefit the second time round.

If we accept that most claimants actually face significant barriers to returning to work, we need to be putting more effort into both giving them the help they need, and encouraging employers to take people on. This was what the Work Related Activity Group was intended to do, but for many the support offered is minimal . People are invited to ‘work focused interviews (in letters that contain severe warnings about the consequences of not attending) and are then sent away for a year in some cases. Box ticked but no help given. Some are referred to the Work Programme which has very poor outcomes for this group, not surprising given that those attending say that all the emphasis was on the mechanics of job search with little reference to their heath.

Taking away £30 pw of income won’t tackle these weaknesses of the system. Will there still be a Work Related Activity Group at all? The only difference from being on JSA will be less conditionality (although there is still some and examples of ESA-WRAG claimants being sanctioned).

Nor are we dealing here with people with minor illness. Charities report that 45% of people who put in a claim for ESA, and had Parkinson’s, Cystic Fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).

While this change isn’t due to start until 2017 it won’t take long for it to apply to a substantial number of people . Around 700,000 apply each year for ESA, of which number around 60% proceed to full assessment (the others generally return to work before the process is complete). Currently around 14% of these go into the WRAG. That’s around 60,000 people affected every year.

37079_433060243430176_1848475368_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

The government need to learn about the link between correlation and causality. Denial of culpability is not good enough.

 

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Correlation isn’t quite the same as causality. When researchers talk about correlation, what they are saying is that they have found a relationship between two, or more, variables. “Correlation does not mean causation” is a quip that researchers chuck at us to explain that events or statistics that happen to coincide with each other are not necessarily causally related.

Correlation means that an association has been established, however, and the possibility of causation isn’t refuted or somehow invalidated by the establishment of a correlation. Quite the contrary. Indeed an established association implies there may also be a causal link. To prove causation, further research into the association must be pursued. So, care should be taken not to assume that correlation never implies causation, because it quite often does indicate a causal link.

Whilst the government deny there is a causal link between their welfare policies, austerity measures and an increase in premature deaths and suicides, they cannot deny there is a clear correlation, which warrants further research – an independent inquiry at the VERY least. But the government are hiding behind this distinction to deny any association at all between policy and policy impacts. That’s just plain wrong.

Correlations between two things may be caused by a third factor that affects both of them. This sneaky, hidden third factor is called a confounding variable, or simply a confounder.

However, most of the social research you read tends to indicate and discuss a correlation between variables, not a direct cause and effect relationship. Researchers tend to talk about associations, not causation. Causation is difficult but far from impossible to establish, especially in complex sociopolitical environments. It’s worth bearing in mind that establishing correlations is crucial for research and show that something needs to be examined and investigated further. That’s precisely how we found out that smoking causes cancer, for example – through repeated findings showing an association (those good solid, old fashioned science standards of replicability and verification). It is only by eliminating other potential associations – variables – that we can establish causalities.

The objective of a lot of research or scientific analysis is to identify the extent to which one variable relates to another variable. If there is a correlation then this guides further research into investigating whether one action causes the other. Statistics measure occurrences in time and can be used to calculate probabilities. Probability is important in studies and research because measurements, observations and findings are often influenced by variation. In addition, probability theory provides the theoretical groundwork for statistical inference.

Statistics are fundamental to good government, to the delivery of public services and to decision-making at all levels of society. Statistics provide parliament and the public with a window on the work and performance of a government. Such data allows for the design of policies and programs that aim to bring about a desired outcome, and permits better targeting of resources. Once a policy has been implemented it is necessary to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the policy to determine whether it has been successful in achieving the intended outcomes. It is also important to evaluate whether services (outputs) are effectively reaching those people for whom they are intended. Statistics play a crucial role in this process.  So statistics, therefore, represent a significant role in good policy making and monitoring. The impact of policy can be measured with statistics.

So firstly, we need to ask why the government are not doing this.

If policy impacts cannot be measured then it is not good policy.

Ensuring accuracy and integrity in the reporting of statistics is a serious responsibility. In cases where there may not be an in-depth understanding of statistics in general, or of a particular topic, the use of glossaries, explanatory notes and classifications ought to be used to assist in their interpretation.

Statistics can be presented and used in ways that may lead readers and politicians to draw misleading conclusions. It is possible to take numbers out of context, as Iain Duncan Smith, amongst others, is prone to do. However, official statistics are supposed to be produced impartially and free from political influence, according to a strict code of practice. This is a government that systematically breaches the code of conduct. See: List of official rebukes for Tory lies and statistical misrepresentations, for example

We need to ask why the government refuses to conduct any research into their austerity policies, the impact they are having and the associated deaths and suicides.

Without such research, it isn’t appropriate or legitimate to deny a causal link between what are, after all, extremely punitive, targeted, class contingent policies and an increase in premature mortality rates.

The merits of qualitative research

However, I believe that social phenomena cannot always be studied in the same way as natural phenomena. There are, for example, distinctions to be made between facts and meanings. Qualitative researchers are concerned with generating explanations and extending understanding rather than simply describing and measuring social phenomena and establishing basic cause and effect relationships. Qualitative research tends to be exploratory, potentially illuminating underlying intentions, reasons, opinions, and motivations to human behaviours. It often provides insight into problems, helps to develop ideas, and may also be provide potential for the formulation hypotheses for further quantitative research.

The dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches, theoretical structuralism (macro-level perspectives) and interpretivism (micro-level perspectives) in sociology, for example, is not nearly so clear as it once was, however, with many social researchers recognising the value of both means of data collection and employing methodological triangulation, reflecting a commitment to methodological and epistemological pluralism. Qualitative methods tend to be much more inclusive, lending participants a dialogic, democratic voice regarding their experiences.

The government have tended to dismiss qualitative evidence of the negative impacts of their policies – presented cases studies, individual accounts and ethnographies – as “anecdotal.”

However, such an approach to research potentially provides insight, depth and rich detail because it explores beneath surface appearances, delving deeper than the simplistic analysis of ranks, categories and counts. It provides a reliable record of experiences, attitudes, feelings and behaviours and prompts an openness that quantitative methods tend to limit, as it encourages people to expand on their responses and may then open up new topic areas not initially considered by researchers. As such, qualitative methods bypass problems regarding potential power imbalances between the researcher and the subjects of research, by permitting participation and creating space for genuine dialogue and reasoned discussions to take place. Research regarding political issues and impacts must surely engage citizens on a democratic basis and allow participation in decision-making, to ensure an appropriate balance of power between citizens and government.

That assumes of course that governments want citizens to engage and participate. There is nothing to prevent a government deliberately exploiting a research framework as a way to test out highly unethical and ideologically-driven policies, and to avoid democratic accountability, transparency and safeguards. How appropriate is it to apply a biomedical model of prescribed policy “treatments” to people experiencing politically and structurally generated social problems, such as unemployment, inequality and poverty, for example?

Conservative governments are indifferent to fundamental public needs

The correlation between Conservative policies and an increase in suicides and premature deaths is a fairly well-established one.

For example, Australian social scientists found the suicide rate in the country increased significantly when a Conservative government was in power.

And an analysis of figures in the UK strongly suggests a similar trend.

The authors of the studies argue that Conservative admininistration traditionally implies a less supportive, interventionist and more market-orientated policy than a Labour one. This may make people feel more detached from society, they added. It also means support tends to be cut to those who need it the most.

Lead researcher Professor Richard Taylor, of the University of Sydney, told BBC News Online:

“We think that it may be because material conditions in lower socio-economic groups may be relatively better under labour because of government programmes, and there may be a perception of greater hope by these groups under labour.

There is a strong relationship between socio-economic status and suicide.”

The research is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

In one of a series of accompanying editorials, Dr Mary Shaw and colleagues from the University of Bristol say the same patterns were evident in England and Wales between 1901 and 2000.

Rates have been lower under Labour governments and soared under the last Conservative regime, which began in 1979 under Margaret Thatcher.

Interestingly, the authors of more recent research point out that although suicide rates tend to increase when unemployment is high, they were also above average during the 1950s when Britain “never had it so good,” but was ruled by the Conservative party.

Overall, they say, the figures suggest that 35,000 people would not have died had the Conservatives not been in power, equivalent to one suicide for every day of the 20th century or two for every day that the Conservatives ruled.

The UK Conservative Party typically refused to comment on the research.

Not a transparent, accountable and democratic government, then.

More recently, public health experts from Durham University have denounced the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s policies on the wellbeing of the British public in research which examines social and health inequality in the 1980s.

The study, which looked at over 70 existing research papers, concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

The research shows that there was a massive increase in income inequality under Baroness Thatcher – the richest 0.01 per cent of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average in 1990, and UK poverty rates went up from 6.7 per cent in 1975 to 12 per cent in 1985.

Thatcher’s governments wilfully engineered an economic catastrophe across large parts of Britain by dismantling traditional industries such as coal and steel in order to undermine the power of working class organisations, say the researchers. They suggest this ultimately fed through into growing regional disparities in health standards and life expectancy, as well as greatly increased inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.

Co-author Professor Clare Bambra from the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Durham University, commented:

“Our paper shows the importance of politics and of the decisions of governments and politicians in driving health inequalities and population health. Advancements in public health will be limited if governments continue to pursue neoliberal economic policies – such as the current welfare state cuts being carried out under the guise of austerity.”

Housing and welfare changes are also highlighted in the paper, with policies to sell off council housing such as Right to Buy  scheme and to reduce welfare payments resulting in further inequalities and causing “a mushrooming of homelessness due to a chronic shortage of affordable social housing.” Homeless households in England tripled during the 1980s from around 55,000 in 1980 to 165,000 in 1990.

And while the NHS was relatively untouched, the authors point to policy changes in healthcare such as outsourcing hospital cleaners, which removed “a friendly, reassuring presence” from hospital wards, led to increases in hospital acquired infections, and laid the ground for further privatisation under the future Coalition government.

The figures analysed as part of the research also show high levels of alcohol and drug-related mortality and a rise in deaths from violence and suicide as evidence of health problems caused by rising inequality during the Thatcher era.

The study, carried out by the Universities of Liverpool, Durham, West of Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh, is published in the International Journal of Health Services. It was scientifically peer-reviewed and the data upon which it was based came from more than 70 other academic papers as well as publicly available data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The Government has repeatedly denied any links between social security cuts and deaths, despite the fact that there is mounting and strong evidence to the contrary. Yet it emerged that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has carried out 60 reviews into deaths linked to benefit cuts in the past three years.

The information, released by John Pring, a journalist who runs the Disability News Service (DNS), was obtained through Freedom of Information requests. The data showed there have been 60 investigations into the deaths of benefit claimants since February 2012.

The DWP says the investigations are “peer reviews following the death of a customer.”

Iain Duncan Smith has denied that this review happened:

“No, we have not carried out a review […] you cannot make allegations about individual cases, in tragic cases where obviously things go badly wrong, you can’t suddenly say this is directly as a result of government policy.”

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 5 May 2015.

Several disability rights groups and individual campaigners, including myself, have submitted evidence regularly to the United Nations over the past three years, including details of Conservative policies, decision-making narratives and the impact of those policies on sick and disabled people. This collective action has triggered a welcomed international level investigation, which I reported last August: UK becomes the first country to face a UN inquiry into disability rights violations.

The United Nations only launch an inquiry where there is evidence of “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people.

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences.

How policies are justified is increasingly being detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of propaganda to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies.  All bullies and despots scapegoat and stigmatise their victims. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

It’s possible to identify which social groups this government are letting down and harming the most – it’s the ones that are being politically marginalised and socially excluded. It’s those groups that are scapegoated and deliberately stigmatised by the perpetrators of their misery.

Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel claim that we cannot make a link between government policies and the deaths of some sick and disabled people. There are no grounds whatsoever for that claim. There has been no cumulative impact assessment, no inquiry, no further research regarding an established correlation and a longstanding refusal from the Tories to undertake any of these. There is therefore no evidence for their claim.

Political denial is repressive, it sidesteps democratic accountability and stifles essential debate and obscures evidence. Denial of causality does not reduce the probability of it, especially in cases where a correlation has been well-established and evidenced.

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This is Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation and Power. Whereabouts are we?

For Arnstein, participation reflects “the redistribution of power that enables the have-not citizens, presently excluded from the political and economic processes, to be deliberately included in the future. It is the strategy by which the excluded join in determining how information is shared, goals and policies are set, tax resources are allocated, programmess are operated, and benefits like contracts and patronage are parceled out. In short, it is the means by which they can induce significant social reform which enables them to share in the benefits of the affluent society.”

A starting point may be the collective gathering of evidence and continual documentation of our individual experiences of austerity and the welfare “reforms”, which we must continue to present to relevant ministers, parliament, government departments, the mainstream media and any organisations that may be interested in promoting citizen inclusion, empowerment and democratic  participation.

We can give our own meaningful account of our own experiences and include our own voice, reflecting our own first-hand knowledge of policy impacts, describing how we make sense of and understand our own situations, including the causal links between our own circumstances, hardships, sense of isolation and distress, and Conservative policies, as active, intentional, consciencious citizens. Furthermore, we can collectively demand a democratic account and response (rather than accepting denial) from the government.


Related

A tale of two suicides and a very undemocratic, inconsistent government

The Tories are epistemological fascists: about the DWP’s Mortality Statistics release

The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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Techniques of neutralisation: David Cameron’s excuses for Iain Duncan Smith

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I wrote earlier about the way the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) heavily micro-managed the recent Mortality Statistics release, and how the Government are using an excessively bureaucratic approach to ensure that no inferences are drawn from the data published, insisting that it’s “wrong” to link the mortality rates of sick and disabled people with punitive, Conservative austerity policies.

However, the accounts and experiences of sick and disabled people and their families (recorded in the media, in parliamentary inquiries, Commons debates – all preserved on the Hansard record) inform us that there is a clear correlation between the Tory “reforms” and increased distress, a loss of dignity and autonomy, financial insecurity and insolvency, increasing ill health, and sometimes, the death, of disabled people.

When confronted in the Commons, Iain Duncan Smith and other ministers dispensed with civilised debate, and simply blocked any discussion regarding concerns raised by the opposition about the negative impact of the Tory welfare cuts on sick and disabled people.  Values of decency and legitimate concerns about the welfare of sick and disabled citizens were depreciated as mere matters of “subjective interpretation” and not as worthy subjects of political, rational or objective discussion.

The Mortality Statistics release from Department of Work and Pension “provides further commentary on the appropriate use of this information” – in other words, it informs us what we may and may not do with the “data”, and carries this pre-emptive caution:

“Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics. Additionally, these isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment.”

Bearing in mind that the information in the release came about because of many Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from many of us, and the rulings of the Information Commissioner and a tribunal (Mike Sivier from Vox Political appealed against the original decision by the Information Commissioner and the DWP to refuse the Freedom of Information requests), it’s difficult to see why the Government have been so determined, firstly, to withhold the information requested, secondly, when forced to make the release, to present the information in a decontextualized way that renders it virtually meaningless, thirdly, to go to such extraordinary lengths to instruct us how we may and may not analyse the data and fourthly, to respond to any interpretive reference to the data as “wrong”, refusing to engage in any further discussion.

Unless of course it’s a Government that doesn’t want open and democratic accountability and public scrutiny of the often devastating impact of its policies.

Debbie Abrahams, the new shadow minister for disabled people, has long been an outstanding campaigner and spokesperson for disabled people. Earlier this month, she asked David Cameron:

“Two weeks ago, the Work and Pensions Secretary’s Department not only admitted to falsifying testimonies in leaflets, but published data on the deaths of people on sickness benefit, which showed that they are four times more likely to die than the general population. That was after the Secretary of State told the House that these data did not exist. Given that, and his offensive remarks earlier this week—referring to people without disabilities as “normal”—when will the Prime Minister take control and respond to my call for the Work and Pensions Secretary to be investigated for breaching the ministerial code?”

Here is the Ministerial code. Ministers are also expected to observe the seven Nolan Principles, which are the basis of the ethical standards of conduct that is expected of all holders of public office. 

Last year, I sent David Cameron a reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the Coalition had exempted themselves, but he didn’t respond and it didn’t make any difference.

It’s true that the Department of Work Pensions (DWP) has admitted falsifying testimonies in leaflets. The DWP’s own data does indicate that people on incapacity benefits are four times more likely to die than other people in the general population. Iain Duncan Smith did tell MPs that this data did not even exist. Then he told them it did.

Let’s be frank here, Iain Duncan Smith has established a culture where it’s acceptable to lie, even his Curriculum Vitae is comprised of  Machiavellian, narcissistic-inspired confabulations – he’s qualified only in absolute and utter tosh, he graduated without Honour. Or a degree.

And it’s truly priceless that Iain Duncan Smith or David Cameron can accuse anyone of misrepresenting statistics with a straight face, given the large number of official rebukes the Tories have had from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for manipulating or  misrepresenting statistics and telling lies.

Today, Debbie received the following written response to her question from the Prime sinister Minister:

Cameron letter on claimant deaths

Cameron letter on claimant deaths

I’ve already addressed a lot of the content above, however I couldn’t help but note the apparent “policing” of Debbie’s tweets. The response isn’t a rational or reasonable one, and certainly not of a standard that is expected of a prime minister.

How can the use of fake statements from fake characters about fictitious “benefits” of harsh sanctions – the arbitrary and punitive removal of lifeline income to support people in meeting basic survival needs – ever “help claimants and advisers to understand the benefit system”?

How is telling lies about the impact of policy and constructing fake positive testimonies ever “illustrative”? That was no “error”: it was an intentional, deceitful act designed solely to mislead the public and to justify the Conservative’s crass and primitive behaviourist approach to what was once our social security.

As is the insistence that “the statistics showed it is quite wrong to suggest any causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim.” Tosh. The statistics showed no such thing,  they did not demonstrate that there is no existing causal link – but the data was presented in a way that intentionally obscures such a link. That does not mean we can conclude there’s no connection between increased mortality and the Conservative “reforms” at all.

Whilst we are warned not to draw inferences of causal links from the statistics, the prime minister thinks that it’s perfectly appropriate to do just that himself. Yet there is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support his denial of a causal link.  The statistical data does not falsify or refute the proposition that such a link exists. We have plenty of recorded evidence, however, to support our proposition that Tory policies are actually harming people.

Tory policies do. Margaret Thatcher’s policies caused premature deaths, too, and her Cabinet were far less harsh towards sick and disabled people than Cameron’s government. A research report which looked at over 70 existing research papers, concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you inflict stress and harm on people who are already ill, by withholding their lifeline support, by constantly reassessing them and telling them they are fit for work when they clearly are not, by invalidating their experiences, by forcing them to fight for the means of survival – without the means of survival, it will probably exacerbate any illness and quite possibly this will kill them.

As I discussed earlier today, Cameron and his government have consistently displayed an absolute lack of concern for sick and disabled people, who have borne the brunt of Tory austerity cuts. Yet it’s inconceivable that Conservatives don’t grasp the fact that their policies are at least potentially very harmful, and certainly very punitive in nature.

I’ve discussed many times before that Tory ideology is founded on toxic subterranean values and principles, which are anachronistic and incompatible with a society that has evolved to value democracy, human rights and the socio-economic gains from our post-war settlement.

Conservatives have always seen inequality as a necessary and beneficial element to a market driven economy, for example, and their policies tend to assemble a steeply hierarchical society, especially given their small state fetishism, which involves removing socio-economic support services and civilising mechanisms such as welfare, free healthcare and access to legal aid.

Beneath the familiar minarchist, class contingent Conservative policies and neoliberal schema is a tacit acceptance of socioeconomic Darwinism, and a leaning towards eugenicist principles, expressed most clearly recently in the withdrawal of tax credit support for low paid families with more than two children, in order to “change behaviours” as Iain Duncan Smith put it. The reasoning behind this is the government believe they can “nudge” poor people into “breeding” less. Such a class contingent policy reflects a deep prejudice and also demonstrates an authoritarianism that is certainly incompatible with democracy and human rights.

(See also David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public, Paternalistic Libertarianism and Freud’s comments in context and What will the Tories suggest next. “Compassionate” eugenics?)

The Tories employ techniques of neutralization which are used to rationalise or justify acts that contravene social norms or that are illegal.  There are five basic techniques of neutralization; denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victims, condemnation of the condemners, and an appeal to higher loyalties.

The recognition of techniques of neutralisation by David Matza and Gresham Sykes happened during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency at the time, and they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

It was Alexander Alverez who identified that these techniques were used more broadly at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust. He added a sixth technique – Disengagement and Dehumanisation.

Such techniques allow people to neutralise and temporarily suspend their commitment to societal and moral values, and to switch off their own “inner protests”, providing them with the freedom to commit deviant acts. Some people don’t have such inner protests – psychopaths, for example – but they may employ techniques of neutralization to manipulate, and switch off the conscience protests of others.

It’s clear that this is a method frequently employed by the government. The Tories systematically attempt to to distort meanings, to withhold,  or deny any evidence that may expose the impact of their draconian policies on targeted social groups.

For example, when they habitually use the word “reform”, when   referring to is cutting funding or support. and “help” and “support” is Tory-speak that means to coerce and punish. The claim that the bedroom tax ishelping” people into workorhelping child poverty– when empirical research shows that 96% of those affected by the bedroom tax can NOT downsize due to a lack of available homes in their area – is a completely outrageous lie. People can’t move as there is a housing crisis, which is due to a lack of affordable homes and appropriately sized accommodation.

How can policies that further impoverish the poorest ever “help them to into work” or alleviate poverty? It’s glib, irrational tosh from a Government that can’t do coherent, joined up thinking, and even worse, thinks that we can’t either.

Forms of social prejudice are normalised gradually, almost inscrutably and incrementally – in stages. Allport describes the political, social and psychological processes, and how techniques of persuasion – propaganda – are used to facilitate stigmatising and dehumanisation of targeted groups to justify discrimination, until the unthinkable becomes acceptable, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries.

The prejudice happens on a symbolic level first – via language – and it starts with subtlety, such as the use of divisive and stigmatising phrases like “scroungers and strivers” in the media and political rhetoric, referring to people who need support and social security as “stock”, suggesting that disabled people are not worth a minimum wage and so on.

These comments and strategies are not “mistakes”, this is how Conservatives really think. People who are prejudiced very seldom own up, and nor do bullies. They employ linguistic strategies, deceitful, diversionary and irrational responses that makes challenging them very difficult.

But as history has taught us, we really must challenge them.

36626_217452248405831_532419169_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Related reading:

This is an excellent, substantial collection of evidenced lies, deceits and more lies from Ian Duncan Smith, collated by Bob Ellard, researcher for DPAC The IDS Files: the truth is out there